Teachers will march in Edinburgh against poverty
At this year’s National Union of Teachers conference our general secretary Steve Sinnott said on a number of occasions that he would be taking the national banner to the Make Poverty History demonstration in Edinburgh on 2 July.
He said he hoped thousands of NUT members would march behind it with local banners.
In Leeds the Tidal anti-poverty campaign has booked a 750-seat train to go to Edinburgh — and it is now full.
Leeds Stop the War booked the last 100 tickets. Within hours of people finding out that we had them we had sold over half. Someone sat on our doorstep clutching his cheque, waiting for us to get up so they could get one.
Steve Sinnott has given a ringing endorsement to the idea that teachers should take the campaign into schools, especially the part of it centred on getting all the world’s children into education.
Moves to do that were already underway in some schools and colleges following a conference on radical approaches to education last month. Now it is not just a good idea among the network set up following that conference, but has the support of the NUT, and probably other teacher unions.
The union has produced a brilliant video that can be used in school or at local events. In discussions with other delegates at the conference it became clear that we can book trains and other transport from across Britain to get to Edinburgh.
Other unions are backing the campaign and it would be good for members of them to secure statements and initiatives from their leaders similar to the one given by Steve Sinnott.
The Stop the War Coalition is making 2 July its next major mobilisation. Clearly, shifting the priorities of the leaders of the world’s richest states from armaments to fighting poverty and expanding education is a key step to realising the targets set by Make Poverty History.
The figure of 100,000 people in Edinburgh was floating around at a fringe meeting at the NUT conference. I think everyone thought that was going to be easily surpassed. Even on the two million strong anti-war demonstration on 15 February we did not take a train from Leeds. With three months to go we’ve filled one for Edinburgh.
The march on 2 July will be historic. Be there.
Sally Kincaid and Steve Johnson, Leeds
How to hide your profits from tax
Thanks to John Christensen (Socialist Worker, 2 April) for his excellent article on how the super-rich use tax havens to avoid paying tax.
His article, however, only told half the story—the other half being how transnational companies also use tax havens for the same purpose.
There are many techniques for doing this, one of the most common being re-exporting. It works like this: Company A in Britain owns a shell company in a tax haven (Company B). Company A sells Company B its products at a cheap price and then later buys them back after being “processed” (which often means nothing at all) at a much higher price.
This reduces Company A’s profits and thus its tax bill. Company B makes big profits but is in a tax haven so probably pays no tax at all — typically only a small annual registration fee.
When this issue was raised with the government last year, it wrung its hands saying it had no idea how to overcome this problem.
But there are many solutions, one of the easiest being to tax a company’s revenue rather than its profit.
Andrew G Stephenson, Newhaven, East Sussex
A view from inside Holloway
Three years ago I spent two months in Holloway prison awaiting trial on a charge of receiving stolen goods. I was not surprised by the report last week that the prison is still a disaster zone which is killing women.
When I was in Holloway there were rats and mice everywhere, some prisoners had obvious mental health problems and many others were driven to the wall by the conditions.
It is a disgrace that up to now teenagers have been kept in Holloway. In 2002 there was a recommendation to end this.
Over 60 percent of women who are remanded in prison are eventually acquitted or, like me, given a non-custodial sentence. Women end up in prison mostly for theft offences (including shoplifting), or drugs.
Often there is a background of domestic violence that pressures women into crime.
Since being in Holloway I have taken an interest in women’s prison conditions. I know that one woman a month kills herself in jail and that the prison population (men and women) has gone up from 60,000 when New Labour was elected to 74,000 now.
All the “law and order” rhetoric we will hear at the election ignores the causes of crime, the fact that prison doesn’t work, and the slow torture of tens of thousands in Britain’s jails.
Margaret Halliday, East London
Boss has done well
I NOTE the following from the Economist magazine of 26 March.
“In 1997, the average British chief executive of one of the top 200 British companies took home £955,000. The typical boss of a comparable sample of American companies was paid £2.86 million, nearly three times as much. By 2003, the gap was down to 1.7 times: British bosses’ pay had risen 77 percent to £1.96 million, compared with only a 6 percent rise in America.”
Linda Forester, Bournemouth
It’s still not pukka food for our schoolchildren
Joanna Blythman makes some excellent points on the appalling state of children’s food (Socialist Worker, 2 April).
Unlike almost all other commentators, she situates the problem in the context of the ownership of food retailing and processing, the neo-liberal assault on public services and the government’s craven refusal to tackle supermarket power.
The government hopes that the school meals issue will go away because some more money has been promised. But this money is not nearly enough to fund the refurbishment of school kitchens.
At the moment many can only reheat chilled food and need considerable funds to make them proper kitchens. They also need better paid and better trained staff.
And the cash announced last week will not subsidise good food suffciently, so meals will still be too expensive for some people. Let’s keep campaigning on the school meals question.
I have one disagreement with Joanna Blythman. I don’t believe that most people simply refuse to find time to cook or see it as a “status symbol” not to cook.
I think the problem is much more the long working hours that people face, the pressure to produce food quickly when you get back from work and the relentless power of advertising.
The government blames individuals for what are in fact social problems. We should not fall into the same trap.
Anne Ballard, Sandbach, Cheshire
Acquitted, but they will make new law
I was delighted last week when Brian Haw, the Parliament Square peace protester, won an appeal against a conviction of “failing to leave a cordoned area”.
Brian Haw was arrested in a midnight police operation on 10 May 2004. In December a magistrate dismissed the charge against him of assaulting a police officer.
Last week the “cordon” conviction collapsed when witnesses for the prosecution did not turn up at court. The judge granted Mr Haw’s appeal against conviction and awarded him costs.
But a new law is now being created to get at people like Brian. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill is currently going through parliament and was due to be debated in the House of Lords this week.
It contains specific proposals to prevent protest outside parliament.
Under the latest version of the bill it will be an offence to take part in any unauthorised protest within a kilometre of parliament.
After heavy pressure from business interests, “economic sabotage” will also become a criminal offence.
We must defend the right to protest.
Janet Gregory, South London
Shame of the hijab laws
We often encourage people not to get angry at the television but to protest. The Headmaster and the Headscarves, on BBC2 last week, made me want to do both.
You saw teachers standing at school entrances harassing some of France’s 1,200 veiled Muslim girls.
Shame on France, right and left, for victimising working class immigrant or refugee communities.
After being challenged, one teacher said the girls’ intelligent words could only have been put into their mouths by “fundamentalists”.
It looks like the fundamentalists are already in power — the politicians who passed these authoritarian laws as mere diversion tactics to avoid the real agenda of the day — imperialist violence and its backlash.
Simon Sobrero, Manchester
Our appeal for Togo’s people
Thank you for your article (Socialist Worker, 19 February) on the death of Togo’s despot, Gnassingbe Eyadema.
The Togolese people have become a hostage to the army which was set up by the late president. A presidential election is now scheduled for 24 April in which Eyadema’s son is taking part.
The election has been rushed in the hope that the opposition cannot get organised in time.
Please assist us in the fight against French imperialist and racist control over its ex-colonies.
Koffi, South London
We don’t need leaders
So Kifaya in Egypt is calling for “real democracy” (Socialist Worker, 2 April). We should admire these people who put themselves at risk for such a worthy end.
But how much respect does their notion of real democracy deserve? It looks to me like they are calling for much the same failed system that most of us in the “democratic” world are so disillusioned about. This seems to be a common pattern of naivety in various countries such as Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
A genuine democracy is most unlikely to be achieved by having an elected president. Indeed I argue that such “leader” positions serve no useful purpose but do an immense amount of harm — Bush and Blair being just two examples which spring to mind.
Robin P Clarke, Birmingham
Britain is now more unequal
The government’s recently released figures on household income show how little redistribution has gone on under Blair.
Between 1996-7 and 2003-4, income before housing costs of the poorest tenth of the population rose by 11 percent. For the richest tenth it rose 18 percent.
For all groups in the bottom half of the income distribution, their income has grown only very slightly more than the richest tenth.
And none of these figures truly reflect the explosive growth of the incomes of the very richest. These have gone through the roof.
The war is not Blair’s only crime. He has ruled over a Britain which has become much more unequal.
Alix Holmes, North London
I hope French will say Oui
YOU ARE for a no vote in the French referendum on the European constitution (Socialist Worker, 2 April). But I want it to be yes.
Europe has a stronger social democratic tradition that Britain, and the proposed constitution will block the wild neo-liberal moves that Blair and his supporters desire.
Adam Curzon, Birmingham